Credit: George House Trust

According to the long-standing policy that restricts blood donation from the gay community, a man who has had homosexual sex within the past 12 months is not eligible to donate blood. The policy is now being reviewed by Red Cross Blood service of Australia.

The restriction was imposed primarily because of the statistically higher incidence of some blood-borne diseases, such as HIV, among the gay community.

The issue was discussed before the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Tribunal in 2008, which resulted in an official call for a review of the policy.

In the United States, the effective ban on gay men donating blood has also started a debate and a Red Cross spokesperson has confirmed that a review is also under way, in Australia.

We think it's an opportune time to review the policy as it stands, said Nick McGowan, spokesman of the Red Cross Blood Service.

We'll look at the policy as it stands ... and we'll cast a wide net to ensure we canvass all views, but also the review will take of any scientific data or medical findings that (may apply) both hear and Australia and abroad.

The review is expected to get under way within 12 months and there would be ample opportunity for the public and all stakeholders to have a say, said Mr McGowan.

He said the move to review the policy did not necessarily mean an automatic signal for it to be changed, and the overwhelming priority for the blood service is the safety of our blood supply.

I wouldn't encourage anyone to jump to any conclusion whatsoever one way or the other - there is a long way to go before we finish the review, said Mr McGowan.

I also think the public would expect the blood service ... to keep up with the best medical advice and scientific data available, not just on this policy but on every policy we have.

The restriction was challenged by Tasmanian Michael Cain before the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Tribunal in 2008.

The tribunal eventually upheld the ban but it agreed with Mr Cain that some gay men would be low-risk donors, and supported a future policy review.

Mr Cain said he was very pleased the review appeared to be imminent, and he called for it to be thorough and transparent.

I believe it's unsafe sex, not gay sex, that poses a risk to the blood supply, said Mr Cain.

And if all potential blood donors - gay and straight - are screened for the safety of their sexual activity the blood supply will be even safer than it is.

All blood donors in Spain and Italy have been screened for safety based on their sexual activity rather than the gender of their sexual partner, said Mr Cain, and the risk of HIV infection through blood transfusion had decreased.

I'm very pleased the Red Cross is now taking this position seriously enough to conduct a review, he said.